Bill Summary for H 1122 (2019-2020)

Summary date: 

May 15 2020

Bill Information:

View NCGA Bill Details2019-2020 Session
House Bill 1122 (Public) Filed Thursday, May 14, 2020
AN ACT TO MAKE VARIOUS CHANGES TO THE LAWS REGARDING BROADBAND DEPLOYMENT AND ACCESS IN THE STATE.
Intro. by Queen, Russell, Brewer, Hunt.

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Bill summary

Includes whereas clauses.

Authorizes the Department of Information Technology (DIT), in consultation with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), to establish and administer a pilot Homework Gap Grants program (program) to provide Internet access to students and teachers who do not have or cannot afford home Internet service. Provides for the Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO) of DIT to work with DPI to initiate the one-year program. Directs for grants to be provided to Local Education Agencies (Agencies) to purchase equipment and services for student and teacher use, and to provide wifi on school buses.

Allocates funds appropriated by the act in specified amounts (1) to provide grants to agencies to purchase equipment and mobile service for school bus wifi, (2) for grant administration and research on the homework gap, (3) for a third-party evaluation of the program and its progress, and (4) for mobile service testing. Requires DIT to transfer necessary funding to DPI upon approval of a Local Education Agency's grant request.

Directs the BIO to develop a strategy to support the affordability of broadband service, as specified. Requires DIT to negotiate with wireless providers to lower monthly subscriptions rates for mobile hotspots and to establish convenience contracts Agencies can use to purchase equipment and services for the program.

Directs the BIO, in consultation with DPI, to establish qualifying grant criteria, as specified, with implementation beginning no later than the 2021-22 school year.

Directs the BIO to collect data on the impact of the program, including the number of students and teachers impacted, the number of buses equipped, and the cost or cost range of services. 

Requires the BIO to report to the specified agency and NCGA committees and division by January 1, 2022, and include specified information in the report.

Directs the State Chief Information Officer (State CIO), in conjunction DPI and a third-party evaluator, to prepare a plan by June 1, 2021, to bridge the homework gap. Details required components of the plan, including information regarding the size and scope of the gap throughout the state.

Part II

Repeals SL 2019-230, Section 7(a) and (b), which transferred $15 million in funds to the GREAT Fund for each fiscal year from 2019-20 through 2028-29.

Amends GS 143B-1373, which establishes and governs the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program. Adds the defined terms low-cost service offering and underserved area. Amends the scoring model used for applications to eliminate multipliers for minimum download and upload speeds of at least 10:1 Mbps and up to 25:3 Mbps. Changes the score multiplier for the following minimum download and minimum upload speeds: 1.00 multiplier (rather than 1.35) for 25:3 Mbps. up to 100:10 Mbps.; and 2.00 multiplier (rather than 1.75) for 100:10 Mbps. or greater speeds. Eliminates the grant cap for a single award and eliminates the limitation of no more than one grant per fiscal year for a project in any one eligible economically disbursed county. Adds a new requirement to award three scoring points to any project application that will offer a low-cost service offering, as defined, to cost no more than $15 monthly with speeds of at least 25:3 Mbps for downloads and uploads, for a qualified low-income household or which accepts Lifeline support in the project area.

Part III

Amends GS 62-2 to no longer deem broadband services provided by public utilities to be sufficiently competitive and prohibit regulation by the NC Utilities Commission (Commission).

Amends GS 62-3 to amend the definition set forth for broadband service to now define the term to mean any service that consists of or includes a high-speed access capability to transmit at a rate of not less than the current threshold for broadband service established by the FCC (rather than a specified, numerical threshold under current law).

Amends Section 8.14 of SL 2015-241 to make the described public school cooperative purchasing agreements available for public and private libraries and regional library systems. Requires each agreement to be based on a defined statewide information technology need to support education in the public schools and public libraries (was, only public schools).

Amends GS 153A-349.60 to more generally authorize counties to provide grants to unaffiliated qualified private providers of highspeed Internet access service to expand service in the county (rather than limited to the expansion of service to unserved areas for economic development in the county). Authorizes counties to use State or federal grants or loans for the grants (previously, limited to unrestricted general fund revenue).

Part IV

Enacts new GS 58-50-310 to require every health benefit plan offered by an insurer in this State to provide coverage and reimbursement for virtual health care, as defined. Requires reimbursement for consultations via virtual health care to be equivalent for the reimbursement for the same service provided in person. Prohibits an insurer from requiring prior authorization for telehealth, as defined, or virtual health care services. Prohibits a health benefit plan from limiting the originating site or the distant site for telehealth or virtual health services. Requires health benefit plans to reimburse physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy delivered through telehealth. Allows a health benefit plan to require a deductible, co-payment, or coinsurance for a covered health care service delivered by telehealth by a preferred or contracted provider, in the same manner as services face-to-face. Requires health benefits plans to reimburse providers for a covered health care service delivered by telehealth at a level no less than that had the service been provided face-to-face. Effective January 1, 2021.

Part V

Enacts GS 153A-458 and GS 160A-499.5, authorizing counties and cities to construct facilities or equipment of a broadband service for the purpose of leasing the facilities or equipment in accordance with GS 160A-272, to one or more lessees who are not a governmental unit. Authorizes boards of commissioners and cities to use ad valorem taxes, grants, or any other unrestricted funds in exercising authority granted under the statute. Details four requirements that a county or city must satisfy before beginning construction: conducting a feasibility study; adopting a resolution at a regular meeting, which had 10 days' public notice, stating the intent to construct and lease the facilities or equipment; notifying the Local Government Commission of any commitment to expend funds for construction over more than one fiscal year; and notifying the State Chief Information Officer, or their designee, of the location and type of facilities or equipment constructed.

Adds building facilities and equipment of broadband services to the purposes for which counties and cities may levy property taxes under GS 153A-149 and GS 160A-209. Effective for taxable years beginning on or after July 1, 2020.

Amends GS 159-81 to authorize facilities or equipment of broadband services for the purpose of leasing the facilities or equipment in accordance with GS 160A-272 to be revenue bond projects.

Amends GS 160A-272, concerning the lease or rental of city property. Current law limits the term of such lease or rental to 10 years, with leases for terms of more than 10 years treated as a sale of property. Removes the specification that the notice of a city council's intent to authorize the lease or rental of city property state that the proposed resolution will be at its next regular meeting. Now provides for a city council to approve a lease beyond ten years without treating the lease as a sale of property if the lease is for the operation and use of any facilities and equipment of a broadband service for a term up to 25 years (previously, for the operation and use of components of a wired or wireless network for a term of up to 25 years, and provided certain restrictions). Further, now provides for any lease by a city of any duration for facilities and equipment of broadband service to satisfy four requirements, including inviting and advertising proposals by newspaper or electronically, as specified. Authorizes proposals to be rejected for any reason determined by the governing body to be in the best interest of the city. Additionally, does not require a city to submit to its voters the question of whether to enter into a lease of part of a city-owned public enterprise to be operated and used as facilities or equipment of broadband service. Maintains and reorganizes the provision requiring periods that can be added to the original term of the lease or rental period by options to renew or extend to be included in determining the term of a proposed lease for purposes of the statute. Makes clarifying changes. Applies to leases entered into on or after July 1, 2020.

Amends GS 160A-340.2 to exempt facilities and equipment of a broadband service constructed by a city for the purpose of leasing the facilities and equipment in accordance with GS 160A-272 from the provisions of Article 16A, Provision of Communications Service by Cities.

Adds to GS 143-128.1C concerning public-private partnership construction contracts, to specify that "public-private project" includes a capital improvement project undertaken for the benefit of a city or county that includes construction of facilities or equipment of a broadband service in conjunction with, or as part of, another construction project undertaken by the city or county.

Effective July 1, 2020.

Part VI

States legislative findings concerning barriers to universal broadband access across the state and smart meter systems. Directs the Commission to issue requests for proposals (RFPs) for contracts with entities in the network or telecommunications sectors necessary to establish a statewide Universal Broadband Smart Meter program (program) with five specified components, including (1) last mile connectivity solutions to bridge the gap between existing infrastructure and unserved or underserved users, as well as (2) funding drawn from resale by the electric public utility's share of energy savings created by the installation and use of smart meter systems. Directs the Commission to execute a contract with a firm chosen from the RFPs and oversee the contract's fulfillment. 

States legislative intent for ongoing program costs to be funded by electric public utilities based on energy savings achieved through the program's implementation. Requires the Commission to demand the utilities to expend remaining avoided cost-savings on enhancements to its transmission and distribution networks to increase energy efficiency and on development of alternative energy sources to provide lower cost and more efficient power.

Amends GS 136-18 to grant the Department of Transportation (DOT) the authority to construct conduits for telecommunication cable in the State right-of-way, with construction costs borne through the leasing of the conduit to private companies if permitted by law. Creates the Conduit Installation Account as a nonreverting account in the Highway Trust Fund to receive revenues from leasing, with DOT charged with administration of the account, and funds use limited to the described conduit construction.

Enacts GS 136-44.18 to require DOT to include conduit installation in its planning for new roads and existing road improvements if (1) less than 50 percent of households in the county where the road is located have access to highspeed data or telecommunications services and (2) a provider of highspeed data and telecommunications services provides DOT with a letter indicating interest in leasing the conduit at any time within five years of project completion.

Directs DOT to report to the specified NCGA committee by May 1, 2021, and annually thereafter, on the conduit installation progress, with specified required content included.

Part VII

Appropriates $35 million in nonrecurring funds and $50 million in recurring funds from the General Fund to the GREAT Fund for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Sunsets the recurring appropriation after the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Appropriates $5 million in nonrecurring funds from the General Fund to DIT for the 2020-21 fiscal year to implement Parts I and II of the act.

Part VIII

Effective July 1, 2020.

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